Looking Back at Some of My Favorite Board Games

Board games have long occupied space in closets and on bookshelves, and have entertained families of all types and sizes for decades. While growing up, my brother and I spent many days and hours playing games, just like my daughters do today.

I admit, when the original Nintendo came along, I spent far less time with the conventional board game and shifted most of my focus to video games. Even so, I have so many fond memories attached to board games, so I thought it would be a good idea to share a few of my favorites with you.


Monopoly

When I hear “board game”, Monopoly is the first thing that comes to mind. I would consider it the “Boardwalk” of board games, while all the others are “Vermont Ave” or “St. James Place”.

The currently recognized version was first published in 1935 by Parker Brothers. It underwent a major redesign in 2008 that saw Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues colors from purple to brown and GO from red to black. It also changed the Income Tax to a flat $200 and upped Luxury Tax from the original $75 to $100.

When I was a kid, my family would play, but in the beginning, I was too young to be in on the game. When my time finally came, I instantly fell in love with it. I thought I was a big deal when I could barter my way to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card or buy Oriental Ave. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand back then how the game worked and would usually be quickly put out of the game due to faulty business decisions.

As I grew older, I graduated from playing with family to playing with friends, where the playing field was a little more level. As an adult, my friends and I came up with a set of additional rules that we called “Survival Monopoly”. It threw in things like “everyone moves one chair to the left”, meaning that you now owned all of your neighbor’s property, and left yours behind to be taken over by someone else.

From the simple color schemes to the simple rules, playing this board game these days always takes me back to another place in time. A place when I was sitting in front of the fireplace, with my brother and my folks enjoying the evening together. It’s one of the things that brings back some of the strongest feelings of nostalgia within me and makes me ache to go back. But at the same time, the game helps me stay anchored in the present, as I love to play the game with my daughters. I see in their faces the same joys of playing the game that I have always experienced and know that I am helping to create in them something that one day they will look back on with similar nostalgic feelings.


Battleship

While Battleship may have started around World War I as a pen and paper game, I didn’t stumble upon its existence until the early-mid ’80s as my brother and I played it quite often. In 1967, Milton Bradley introduced a version with the now-familiar plastic boards and pegs, and in 1977 they introduced Electronic Battleship.

We only had the standard version. My brother and I would play downstairs in the family room in front of the fireplace where we tended to play a lot of our board games. We both stretch out lying down on our stomachs with the boards back to back with each other and kill several hours playing several rounds of Battleship.

Being eight years older than me, he was aware of this thing called “strategy” and would call out his shots in a specific manner, while I, on the other hand, would randomly just pick whatever coordinate that appealed to me at the moment. Needless to say, he won way more games than he lost when he played against me.

Although Milton Bradley released Talking Electronic Battleship in 1989, we never picked up that version of the game, nor have I ever had a chance to play it. Even to this day. One of my younger cousins had it, but somehow I managed to never get the joy and excitement that it may have brought to the game. These days, my daughters play Battleship quite often, although it usually seems to result in more name-calling and accusations of cheating than it does joy.


Operation

Ahh…the board game of the steady hand that featured Cavity Sam getting operated on endlessly by children everywhere. The game was simple in strategy, as all you really could do was hope to draw a card featuring an easy removal, then try to stay steady as everyone else hovered over the board eyeing your every move while you hope your sweating hands didn’t lead you astray and touch one of the metal sides of the cavity signaling you just screwed up.

This simple concept was designed and engineered by a fellow named John Spinello while he was an Industrial Design student at the University of Illinois in 1964. He sold the game to Milton Bradley for $500 and the promise of a job after graduation. Not a bad deal on either side at the time, although I would venture to guess that Mr. Spinello wished he had negotiated some royalties as part of the deal since the game went on to worldwide fame.

For me, this was a board game that I could whip out and play with my Mom. No matter what age I was, it was simple to grasp the rules, and I could be competitive because it just came down to who had the steadier hand. Unless you were going after that blasted Writer’s Cramp pencil. That thing was so thin that its cavity was very narrow. It was near impossible to get that thing without setting off the buzzer. A lot of the other pieces like Bread Basket or Broken Heart were much easier, and as a kid, those were the ones I hoped I would draw the card for.

Many an evening my Mom and I would play this game for a little bit while dinner was cooking. I would get it all set up on the kitchen table, and in between stirring whatever was on the stove, she would come over and take her turn. Sometimes, I think she purposely screwed up so I could get more pieces and win the game. But it didn’t really matter, just being able to play a board game with my Mom on a regular basis was a win for me.


Connect Four

Here we are with another game from Milton Bradley, this time from the magical year of 1974. I’ll have to let someone else tell you why it was magical because I wasn’t born until 1978. But the fact it came out after my brother was born, and before I was born, meaning that this was just another game my brother had several years to practice the strategy on before I got around to playing. I find it hard to recollect ever beating him at this game.

The concept was a simpler one, where you dropped colored checkers in a standing grid board and tried to be the first to connect four of your checkers in a straight line. He would always seem to beat me by setting up a diagonal line for the win….much as I do against my daughters now.


Don’t Break the Ice

Don’t Break the Ice came out in 1968 from Schaper Toys, and you can still find it on store shelves today still right beside all the other board games. Usually, you can find it on a bottom shelf along with Ants in the Pants, and Don’t Spill the Beans. I picked it up for my daughters several years ago, and even though it’s not one they get out very often, they still play it on occasion.

When I was playing it, it was with my brother (surprise, surprise), and for whatever reason, we seemed to mostly play it on snowy days while out of school. Maybe it was the theme of the game that lined up with the weather outside, but we played the heck out of it on those days.

The version we had was from the late ’70s or early ’80s and featured the little man sitting in a chair as the piece that you didn’t want falling in. These days, I believe the game features an ice-skating bear as that character.

We’d get the game set up, and take our slow and easy time pecking away at the blocks trying not to be the one to send the whole thing crashing down. Unlike other games he and I played together, there wasn’t much strategy he could have learned to use against me, and it really came down to just who could pick the best block to knock out, and do it in such a fashion as not to loosen all the other blocks as well. But, once we did, we quickly set it up again and start a fresh game. It was a good way to spend a snowy day and left some great memories of those times with me.


Risk

The game of global domination….and kitchen table supremacy. The game has been around since the late ’50s, but my first experience with it came at the birthday party of my friend Lance.

Lance had invited about 6 of his best friends to his house for a sleepover birthday party. This would have been 1986 most likely. I was one of the first to arrive, and his Mom had rented Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi for us to watch, and the pizza was on the way.

But as cool as that was, what ended up being the main attraction for me was my first time playing the game Risk. I had never seen or heard of the game before, and as Lance set it up, the excitement kept building as I looked at all the cool pieces and the oversized game board. It took me a little while to grasp the rules, but I quickly became engrossed by it all.

There were six of us playing, and the game stretched well into the night, and we had to continue it the following morning. Unfortunately, my Mom showed up to get me before the game was over, but from that moment on, I was hooked.

The only problem with the game was the fact that it took so long to play, that it was hard to even find anyone who wanted to play. My family wasn’t interested in it at all. So for years, I had to make do with just thinking about the game until a computer version came out, and then I played it constantly. Once married, my wife and some friends would play on a regular basis, but that’s been several years ago. This is one I need to teach my daughters to play.


Weekend Reading 06/12/22

Every weekend, I like to share a curated list of retro & nostalgia-themed articles, stories, and posts that I’ve come across in the last week. It gives you a chance to grab a hot cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa, sit back and pass the time reading about the good old days. So with that in mind, here are some things I wanted to share with you this week.


And in case you missed them, here are the latest features that I dropped here on Retro Ramblings this week…

  • Cool Kid’s Meal Toys – a look back at some of my favorite kid’s meal toys and premiums from fast food places other than McDonald’s.

Construx Were One of My Favorite Toys of the ’80s

Back in the day, I loved building toys. LEGO was certainly a favorite of mine, but there was another building toy that I probably got a lot more play out of…Construx.

In 1983, Fisher-Price rolled out its newest toy creation.  It was called Construx and was possibly the most versatile building/construction toy since the Erector Set.  It featured plastic beams in various lengths, multi-directional connectors, plates, axles, wheels, pulleys, and much more.  What you could make with Construx was really only limited to your imagination.

Besides Lego, Construx was the greatest building toy that I ever laid hands-on, and in some ways, it surpassed Lego. The size of the pieces and the way they were designed allowed for larger projects than Lego could handle, which allowed for such projects as bridges, buildings, and any other thing you could dream up. These were awesome if you had a fertile imagination…which my brother and I did, and we used our Construx to build gooseneck trailers for our Tonka trucks to pull along, forklifts to load those trailers, and a host of other equipment to be used with them.

The first set that I had was the Bridges and Tower set that came out in 1983. I remember it not being exactly easy to follow the directions and complete the build, but not so hard that I had to have help with them either. I just had to take a little longer than my older brother did to complete it. But when it was done, oh my was it ever a fun thing to play with. He and I ended up using those Construx bridges to enhance the fun in our G.I. Joe adventures. As a matter of fact, just about everything we built with the Construx was to play with some other toy line we had. Rarely did we build anything just for the sake of playing with the Construx. I would put together swords and ninja stars when I would watch a martial arts movie and then let my imagination run wild. I would use them to construct obstacle courses and run my G.I. Joe men through their paces trying to re-enact the latest episode of American Gladiators. We used them to build tunnels and other things to go along with our Hotwheels fun.

My cousin and I would have frequent sleepovers, and Construx was usually at the center of our play.  We’d make armor and weapons and battle it out, usually as He-Man vs. Skeletor.  We’d use them to make swords, daggers, and ninja stars and stalk each other through the dark house late at night.  We’d each spend time making a rolling vehicle of some kind loaded with “weapons”, and then battle it out.

But my fondest memory of them would be the time I used them to build a scaffold. It was 1986, and The Road Warriors and The Midnight Express had just wrestled in a scaffold match at Starrcade 86, and I just had to re-create that. Years earlier, my father made me a wrestling ring, and I spent hours pitting my G.I. Joe men against one another in combat, pro-wrestling style. I even gave them cool wrestling names and all. So I used the Construx to build a scaffold over my toy ring and used it from then on to settle the most intense feuds to ever take place in my room. In the photo below is a scale model of the scaffold I used to build. I put this one together just for this article. It’s not as long, nor as tall as the one I used to build. But I don’t have enough pieces these days to make an exact replica.

In later years, the  Construx line produced some Space themed sets with glow-in-the-dark pieces. We had those as well but mainly used them for what they were intended in the Space theme. But it was cool to take some of the glow-in-the-dark pieces and use them to make flashlights to use on sleepovers. Construx were so versatile a toy, I think they could hit the market today and be a hit all over again. Of course, Mattel took over the line in 1997 and tried to re-establish the line without much success.  I think they were fairly popular in their own right during their original run, but Lego had the market cornered, and Construx just didn’t make it. Sad. It was one fine construction-based toy line, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to enjoy it. It was a role-player.  A solid backup. It enhanced the play of so many other toys in my collection, I would put Construx in the Toy Hall of Fame just for that.

Weekend Reading 06/06/22

Every weekend, I like to share a curated list of retro & nostalgia-themed articles, stories, and posts that I’ve come across in the last week. It gives you a chance to grab a hot cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa, sit back and pass the time reading about the good old days. So with that in mind, here are some things I wanted to share with you this week.